Nocturnalist | All Dolled Up
Of the five panelists on stage at the Fashion Institute of Technology on Tuesday night discussing the Japanese fashion culture known as Gothic Lolita, only one, a Japanese illustrator and designer, spoke no English. But to the uninitiated, the four others might have been speaking a different language as well.
The group, two representatives from the h. Naoto brand (one of whom served as translator), two owners of Tokyo Rebel, an East Village store that specializes in the style and a moderator, discussed the Japanese aesthetic of “kawaii,” or cuteness. The event, held as part of a focus on Japanese fashion by the institute’s museum, also explored the different tribes of those who dress in the Gothic Lolita style — an aesthetic reminiscent of a Hello Kitty doll come to life, only, if possible, more cutesy.
Those tribes were represented in the audience, many of whom who looked like animated American Girl dolls, in pastel pinafores puffed with tutus, matching bow-covered socks and lacy wrist cuffs. Others wore versions in a Wednesday Addamsesque palette. Each subset of the Lolita style has a name, like “aristocrat,” “sweet,” “dandy” or “deco-den.” A doodad-embellished version, deco-den looks a bit like what might happen if Rainbow Brite were left alone with a glue gun.
Enthusiasts like Tania Vivas, 22, spend hundreds of dollars on each outfit, often purchased through Japanese go-betweens who buy the latest looks for American clients and then ship them here.
After the lecture, the Lolitas gathered for a pink-frosted tea party, snacking on pink mini-cupcakes and, of course, sizing up one another’s outfits. Ivanna Hobgood, 21, had a side-ponytail festooned with individually stitched pink plush felt candies. “I’m that sweet,” she told an admirer. “I can touch you and give you diabetes.”
Abigail Blatt, 24, specializes in resizing outfits for American figures. “A Lolita is not necessarily someone who is trying to entice an older man,” she said. Around her, girls in thigh-highs posed for photos, some suggestively nibbling kitten-shaped cookies. But, her friend added, “What sexy is in America, that’s what cute is in Japan.”
In the lecture hall a few moments earlier, the designer, a young Japanese Avril Lavigne named Gashicon, trotted out two models wearing her fall looks. They modeled an urchinlike dishabille: ruffled miniskirts over sheer knee socks. Her inspiration, said Gashicon through her translator, was “monster.”
In the front row, Andrea Vargas, 22, in full Lolita gear, gasped: “It’s adorable.”
Next to her sat Marilyn Hopeman, decades older, dressed in the all-black uniform of a Manhattan fashionista. “If that were me,” she said, “my dad would have locked me in the house.”
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